Everyone knows that online dating scams have been around as online dating. But the reported $100 million+ losses incurred in the US alone are just the tip of the iceberg according to officials.
Every day in just about every country there is another report about a dating scam and the sad tale of someone who loses money rather than their heart.
The WSJ reports that the Federal Trade Commission h as even created a separate category tracking what it terms “romance scam” and lat year it received complaints of losses amounting to $105 million.
But they, according to FTC director Steve Baker, are just the tip of the iceberg.
The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command calls the problem “epidemic.” It says it receives hundreds of reports each month from victims bilked by individuals on dating sites who impersonate soldiers, including servicemen who have been killed in combat.
“Perpetrators are asking for money to purchase ‘leave papers’ from the Army, pay medical expenses from combat wounds or fly home from the war zone—all [items] taken care of by the military,” says spokesman Chris Grey, who has spoken with victims from the U.S., Australia, Japan and Britain.
Ahead of Valentine’s Day, Western Union WU +2.09% has joined the Better Business Bureau in a campaign to warn consumers against sending money to anyone they haven’t met in person, warm feelings notwithstanding.
The wire-transfer company ranks romance scams among the most prevalent types of global fraud it sees, alongside certain kinds of Internet purchases and fictitious lotteries. Canada’s fraud unit reported $16 million lost to romance scams in 2012, up from about $600,000 in 2008. Authorities in the United Kingdom and Australia have also reported widespread problems.
Phil Hopkins, Western Union’s security chief, has traveled to Africa, where much of the fraud originates, to discuss the problem with law enforcement there. He says loosely structured fraud rings and lone schemers elude detectives. And perpetrators based outside the U.S. are tougher to prosecute.
In a statement relating to a scam involving a 67 year old woman who had been scammed of $15,000, ChristianMingle.com says it has “extensive safeguards…to protect its members, identify questionable profiles and eliminate attempted fraudulent activity.” Spark Networks Inc., LOV -0.51% which also owns the Jewish relationship site JDate, says every new member must pledge not to send money to anyone they meet online and to report anyone who requests financial information on joining the site.
Criminals typically court victims over several months with poetry, flowers and other forms of flattery. They then lure victims off the dating site to communicate by email or instant message. Trust won, the perpetrators then present a crisis that requires money to resolve.
In San Jose, Calif., a 66-year-old woman dipped into her retirement savings and refinanced her house to invest $500,000 in an online suitor’s fictitious oil rig, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office. The woman, who wasn’t named, sent the money in allotments, ending with $200,000 transferred to a Turkish bank.
When she contacted the district attorney’s office, it requested that the bank freeze the funds. An accomplice of the perpetrator, who is still at large, was arrested when he tried to withdraw the funds, and remains in jail in Turkey pending his case there. The bank returned the woman’s money.
But what can you do to beat the online dating scammers?
The Better Business Bureau has come up with some tips to help you recognize a potential scam on your favorite dating site.
The BBB suggests you get very cautious when you see the following:
• They want to leave the dating site immediately and use personal email or telephone.
• Their interest is all about you and they omit or evade detailed personal information about themselves.
• They claim love within moments of meeting you online.
• They claim to be from the U.S. but are traveling or working overseas.
• They plan to visit, but are prevented by some sort of emergency. A sobbing story turns into a situation that only your financial “loan” can solve.
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